Rickie Fowler shakes off 'overrated' tag in 'fifth major'

By Iain CarterBBC golf correspondent
Rickie Fowler
Fowler's victory at the Players Championship was just the second PGA Tour win of his career

Don't you just love golf's capacity to confound? Rickie Fowler's emphatic Sawgrass response to his "overrated" branding was one of three instances where expectations have been stirringly overturned.

There was victory for a largely forgotten Welshman and an unlikely but superb return from injury for one of Europe's most promising talents, but quite rightly Fowler's thrilling victory at the Players' Championship commands most attention.

Covering the final four holes in a mere 11 strokes before winning a three way play-off was the stuff of golfing legend, especially after Fowler finished joint top with Ian Poulter in a Sports Illustrated poll of anonymous pros asked to choose the most overrated player on Tour.

Coming into the tournament which is branded the unofficial fifth major, 26-year-old Fowler had won just once in 141 starts on the PGA Tour. This poorly reflected his abilities when you consider that last year he was runner up in three majors and fifth at the Masters.

As he approached the closing stretch on the final day of the Players on Sunday it looked like this would be just another lucrative high finish without yielding a trophy.

Indeed, his Mum Lynn and sister Taylor had already seen enough and left the premises. They were checking in their bags at Jacksonville airport while Fowler was making his crucial eagle on the par-five 16th.

Rickie Fowler
Fowler's previous PGA Tour victory came at the Wells Fargo tournament in May 2012

He had birdied the previous hole and two more then followed on the island green 17th and the treacherous par-four finisher.

By this time Lynn and Taylor had jumped into a courtesy car and high tailed back to PGA Tour headquarters.

From five behind with six to play, Fowler leapt into a lead that was ultimately matched by Sergio Garcia and Kevin Kisner.

After the three-hole shootout, Fowler sealed victory over Kisner in sudden death with his third birdie of the evening on the notorious short 17th.

This was golf at its box-office best and there is no doubt the controversial "overrated" poll gave it extra resonance. It seemed as though the 24% who had voted for Fowler were being made to eat their ballot papers.

"I laughed at the poll. But if there's any question, anything you need to know, it's right here," Fowler said after lifting the crystal trophy.

But whether it was actually the vote that provided Fowler with the decisive extra incentive to claim the biggest win of his career is open to question.

Rickie Fowler
In 2010 Fowler became the youngest American to play in the Ryder Cup, aged 21

The reason behind this victory is probably more prosaic. Most golfing successes can be found in the dirt of the range and this was a win inspired by a coaching intervention that led to rededicated work ethic.

It came after the poster boy had cruised through the early months of the year. In March he finished tied 41st at the Honda Classic which, to that point, was his best performance of 2015.

Coach Butch Harmon then dispensed some telling home truths and a more dedicated approach yielded 12th placed finishes at Doral and the Masters.

Fowler also made the knockout stages of the WGC Matchplay after, a week earlier, missing the cut in New Orleans. It was an unfortunate early exit because he was within eight strokes of the lead when the guillotine fell.

So these were improved but not earth-shattering performances and they certainly didn't match up to the attention Fowler regularly commands.

Photogenic, friendly and articulate, he is a sponsors' dream. As a result he has attracted and embraced coverage commensurate with a player of more substantial achievements.

That's why they voted him overrated.

Rickie Fowler 2014 Major results
MastersTied 5th
U.S Open Tied Second
The Open ChampionshipTied Second
The PGA ChampionshipTied Third

This victory, though, goes a long way to altering that perception. It might also signal a readiness to take the next step and land a genuine major.

More immediately Fowler will prepare for a trip later this month to the Irish Open. It means a return to Royal County Down where in 2007 he fell to a 3&2 Walker Cup singles defeat against a young Welshman called Rhys Davies.

That week Davies also thrashed Dustin Johnson as he starred in a beaten Great Britain and Ireland team which also included Rory McIlroy and Danny Willett.

Within three years it was little surprise that Davies had become a European Tour winner regarded as a prospective Ryder Cup player.

He rose to 44th in the world and drove a European team buggy at Celtic Manor in 2010 while Fowler and Johnson were making their American debuts. But the push to the next level proved beyond Davies and two years later his European Tour card was lost.

Nowadays the 29 year old plies his trade on the Challenge Tour. On the day of Fowler's Sawgrass victory, it was on that humbler circuit that Davies finally returned to the winner's circle.

Rhys Davies
Davies won his only European Tour event in Morocco in 2010

And his triumph in the Turkish Airlines Challenge will surely feel every bit as sweet as Fowler's success.

"Sometimes it has been really horrible in the last couple of years," Davies admitted. "It was so bad I didn't know where the next good round was going to come from.

"That's all I've been looking for, one good score. It's been quite dark sometimes, but I always felt that if I could get in the mix I could win again.

"I didn't doubt that, to be honest."

Davies possesses a wonderful putting stroke and a perspective that should serve him well as he seeks to build from this victory.

And Denmark's Thorbjorn Olesen is someone else working his way back from adversity. The 25 year old's promising career was stalling because of a tendon injury in his left hand.

Olesen underwent surgery in February and on the European Tour in Mauritius last week he returned in style, forcing his way into a play-off ultimately won by George Coetzee.

"I didn't expect this before the tournament, so to be in a play-off is unbelievable when I haven't been in a tournament for three months," the Dane acknowledged.

Yes, it was some weekend, with Olesen, Davies and Fowler all proving golf's ability to serve stories that are both uplifting and unanticipated.


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